Talk to retailers about the market at the moment and there is one word they are using to describe trading, and that’s volatile.
Talk to retailers about the market at the moment and there is one word they are using to describe trading, and that’s volatile. From month to month, week to week, day to day and hour to hour, by region, by town, by store, the variations are proving impossible to read and reflect a consumer who doesn’t really understand what’s going on in the world around them. After the week just passed, who can blame them?
This week’s BRC numbers showed an expected decline, because of the timing of Easter, but what’s happening this month is more interesting. All the talk has been about how bad last weekend was in the stores. The unseasonably chilly weather won’t have helped, but there is a sense that the unseemly horse-trading over who’s going to run the country spooked shoppers into staying at home and watching the news.
A bad weekend in the shops at a time of national upheaval might be expected but it’s important that David Cameron’s coalition quickly gets down to the vital business of stabilising both the economy and the country’s nerves, while quickly giving business and the public clarity on the spending cuts and tax rises ahead.
Instinctively it feels that a government formed of politicians with diametrically opposing principles couldn’t be worse for business. Unless Cameron, Clegg and Co can defy the widespread scepticism to give retailers and their customers the stability and certainty they crave, a long hard summer could be in store for our industry.
Harrods’ new chapter
Mohamed Al Fayed’s sale of Harrods brings to an end one of the more colourful chapters in UK retail history. His throughput of senior executives was legendary, but he was undeniably as passionate about the store as he was about the status that came with owning it.
It remains an endearingly eccentric place - what other store sells real cats just feet away from Arrogant Cat? - but over the past few years Harrods has worked hard to successfully re-establish its credentials as a world class top-end retailer first, tourist attraction second, and it has sailed through the recession with no trouble at all.
What next? The new owners from Qatar will be lower profile than Al Fayed - that won’t be hard - but they will know the unique power of the Harrods brand presents huge opportunities far away from Knightsbridge.